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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Bob McDonnell, Martin O'Malley; Interview With Tony Perkins, Dick Armey; Romney Wins Nevada Caucuses

Aired February 5, 2012 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Nevada delivers for Romney while early signs of a recovering economy suggests Republicans may have to tune up their fall pitch to unseat the president.

Today, 2012 politics from the state side with two leading governors, Virginia Republican Bob McDonnell and Maryland Democrat Martin O'Malley.

Then if they had to, could core conservatives learn to love Mitt? We ask the president of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins and Tea Party leader Dick Armey.

You, the economy and the election with Alice Rivlin, Douglas Holtz Aiken and Ron Brownstein.

And then Israel, Iran and the U.S., what we know with House intelligence chairman Mike Rogers.

I'm Candy Crowley, and this is State of the Union.

A Gallup/USA Today poll of 12 key swing states shows President Obama beating every Republican comer except one, Mitt Romney. After months of pounding by Republican rivals and the president's team, Romney is up a point over the president, a statistical dead heat.

35 percent of swing state Republicans say they are extremely enthusiastic to vote this year, as compared to 23 percent of Democrats, 20 percent of independents. that's called an enthusiasm gap.

Also troublesome for the president's prospects, four of the 12 swing states have jobless rates over 9 percent, and four are in the top ten for highest foreclosure rates.

Joining us now, Bob McDonnell, head of the Republican Governors Association, and his counterpart at the Democratic Governors Association Martin O'Malley. Gentlemen thank you both for joining us.

I want to -- before we get to the swing states, and I'll start with you, Governor O'Malley, do you think, put on your analyst hat now, is the Republican nomination race over in all but the gathering of delegates with Mitt Romney's big win last night?

O'MALLEY: I'm not sure it is all but over. I think what people are still looking for within the Republican Party and certainly independents is whether any of the candidates actually have a credible plan for creating jobs at a faster rate than our economy is now starting to create jobs. And that's something that we have yet to see, even with all of the intrigue and the ups and downs of this race.

So I think this race still has a ways to go. Clearly former Governor Romney has some momentum and now people will ask, well when he was governor why did his state rank 47th in job creation if he has such great ideas for creating jobs?

So I think people are still shopping.

CROWLEY: And you guys are pretty grateful to still have Newt Gingrich kind of doing your advance work for you.

But let me bring in Governor McDonnell here and ask you, and we should you say you are a Mitt Romney backer, but as you look at this race, do you see a way that he could lose it or is it his to lose?

MCDONNELL: Well, good morning, Candy and good morning, Martin. I think Mitt Romney has got tremendous momentum now. He's won three out of the five, tied the other one in the northeast, the southeast, the rocky mountain states and winning across every spectrum of the Republican base -- moderate, very conservative, evangelical, Tea Party, and just you know, regular folks.

So I think he's on a roll. There are 17 primaries and caucuses in the next 30 days and the map is lining up very well for Mitt Romney, because here's the bottom line everybody knows he's got the best chance to beat President Obama.

You said at the top of the show that it's neck and neck between the two. The president knows it, most people know it and we want to win. And so I think he'll be the nominee, the only question is when.

CROWLEY: And the poll was about swing states. And it did show that it's really a dead heat in the states that really decide the election.

Governor O'Malley to you, when you look at this at the swing state picture, what turns this around for the president? Because these are must wins for either candidate, but what turns it around for him?

O'MALLEY: I think really there's one central issue, and that is the economy. And I think the best two indicators of whether or not the economy is becoming better after the Bush recession or whether it's getting worse is the job creation numbers, 23 months in a row now of positive job creation. We haven't done that as a country since 2005.

CROWLEY: But remember, four of these 12 swing states have unemployment rates over 9 percent. And they vote state by state.

O'MALLEY: Which makes it even more -- this issue even more acute and even higher on the radar screen of people there.

The second thing, and you mentioned this in your piece, is the foreclosure rates in all of those states.

CROWLEY: Again, four in ten of these states have...

O'MALLEY: Four out of 10, and yet we have now driven, because of President Obama's choices and policies, we've driven foreclosures down to their lowest rate in 49 months. Foreclosures are now lower than they were before. What is Mitt Romney's response to foreclosures? Let it bottom out. Do nothing. I don't think that's going to be an alternative to people in any states really think is a responsible one for homeowners.

CROWLEY: Governor McDonnell I'll give you a chance to respond to that, but I also want you to address something else that Democrats are bringing up and that is they say sure, at this moment there is this what looks like a statistical dead heat in the swing states, but if you look at the past two races, in particular, meaning Florida and Nevada, they note that the number of people participating, number of Republicans participating in these contests is down. And they say that that means that Republicans aren't all that enthusiastic about any of these guys, and that that does not bode well for you this fall.

MCDONNELL: Well Candy, I disagree. You gave at the top of the show the difference in the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats by about 12 points in terms of their interest in this race.

This race is coming down to three things, it's leadership, it's jobs, and it's the national debt and deficit sit. And on all of those, President Obama's failed. He spends most of his time blaming Republicans and the Tea Party and Wall Street for all the problems in the country and not taking responsibility. He's completely failed to get the national debt and deficit under control. He's contributed nearly $5 trillion to the national debt with no plan to get out of it.

And despite Governor O'Malley's stats, the bottom line is we've been over 8 percent unemployment for virtually his entire presidency, 36 months. This is a president who said pass my big stimulus spending bill and we won't be over 8 percent, well we haven't been under 8 percent in all that time. He got no budget done when he had his own party in control. So it's been a complete failure of leadership. He cannot run on his record. He's had no plan for jobs or energy that he got passed so he's got a tough -- I'm glad the economy is starting to recover, but I think it's because of what Republican governors are doing in their states, not because of the president.

O'MALLEY: Well, that's very interesting. In fact I was going to ask Governor McDonnell, Candy, if his state is creating jobs again or is Virginia still losing jobs as you were in the recession? And that's a rhetorical question, governor. Your state is now creating jobs, my state is creating jobs, throughout our country, Candy, we're now creating jobs again.

Now we could create jobs faster, Governor McDonnell, if your party were not captive of the right wing Tea Party folks in congress who want to keep anything from happening. But facts are stubborn things. We've gone 23 months in a row of positive job growth, we've driven foreclosures down to their lowest rate in 49 months and unemployment has now been driven down to its lowest rate in three years.

And there's more progress we still need to make. It's all about creating jobs and bringing people together to do that.

CROWLEY: Governor McDonnell, I want to ask you -- go ahead, go ahead.

MCDONNELL: Well, let me just respond to my friend, Martin.

By the way we get along. We do a lot together in the Washington area but I just flat disagree with him. 11 out of the top 15 states in America that are ranked by CNBC as top places to do business are Republican states. Seven out of the 10 states that have had the biggest drop in unemployment are states run by Republican governors.

And he and I disagree. His plan in Maryland is to increase taxes on income, on gas, on cigars and everything else, but the bottom line is, I'll take our record in Virginia of creating jobs, we're at a 6.2% unemployment, Maryland is at 6.9.

O'MALLEY: Actually 6.7.

MCDONNELL: From the time I became governor I've had -- well, Ok, it's going to fluctuate.

O'MALLEY: And we're creating jobs four times the rate that Virginia is, Candy.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to a slightly different...

MCDONNELL: Well, the point is that's...

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to a slightly different subject because I'm going to -- you all are going to talk through this and I won't be able to get this in. And this week what we've seen is some real outrage within the Catholic community about the president's decision to require Catholic entities, charities, churches and schools to provide contraception and other things within their health insurance plans.

E.J. Dionne, who is no raving Republican here, had this to say in his column, "it is so remarkable that Obama utterly botched the admittedly difficult question of how contraceptive services should be treated under the new health care law. His administration mishandled this decision not once but twice. In the process, Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus and strengthened the hand of those inside the church who had originally sought to derail the health care law."

And I want to quickly play for you something that Newt Gingrich said last night about this same issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Obama administration has declared war on religious freedom in this country and people need to understand that. This is a decision so totally outrageous, and the illustration of such radical secular ideology that I believe the entire hierarchy will oppose it every inch of the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: So, my question to you in the final 90 seconds we have, has President Obama damaged the Catholic vote as far as Democrats are concerned? And you, as I understand it, are Catholic.

O'MALLEY: I am Catholic.

O'MALLEY: And I think, Candy, there has been a little bit too much hyperventilating over this issue. It's one of those issues that they want to use...

CROWLEY: Well, it came from Catholics themselves in the hierarchy.

O'MALLEY: Well, some, and most of those members of that hierarchy are also Republicans. And if you look at 28 states, Candy, this is not about abortion, it's about covering contraception as part of the health care coverage, mandatory basic coverage. Twenty-eight states already require this, and in Europe countries that are...

CROWLEY: But you're not thinking about the state, the federal government, telling a religion what it must cover in a health care policy.

O'MALLEY: Well, there is an exemption for churches themselves. The exemption does not necessarily extend to institutions like hospitals or universities that employ people of all faiths.

But these same rules apply in countries like Italy which have overwhelming numbers of Catholics, and yet we did not see the reaction in those countries to these sorts of things.

CROWLEY: Well, and I'm going to give the last word to you, Governor McDonnell. Is there an opening for Republicans to seize in the Catholic vote sector, which is very large as you know, in some very important states, Ohio, Pennsylvania, et cetera?

MCDONNELL: Absolutely. As a pro-life Catholic, I think the answer is yes. Besides the health care bill being unconstitutional and a great expansion of federal government, I think if it does not respect people's individual religious views and makes groups or individuals do things that are contrary to their deeply held beliefs, there is going to be a visceral negative reaction. And I think the Catholic voters will look very favorably upon Mitt Romney this year.

CROWLEY: Governor McDonnell and Governor O'Malley, as always, I have many more questions to ask you. So you have to come back. Thank you so much for joining me.

O'MALLEY: Thank you very much.

MCDONNELL: OK. Thank you. CROWLEY: Up next, will the Republican base ever fall in love with Mitt Romney? We'll get insight from two conservative leaders. And later, signs of strength and hints of weakness in the economy. We'll ask our expert panel to make sense of it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me to talk about the current GOP field, Freedomworks chairman and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey; and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

Gentlemen, thank you so much to both of you for being here. I wanted to give our listeners a look at what has gone on in some of the exit polls and in fact with Nevada, it was entrance polls but, nonetheless, of what has happened to Mitt Romney among the conservative voters.

In South Carolina, he only got 19 percent of those who self- identified as very conservative, but by the time we got to Nevada, 49 percent of very conservatives self-identified voters said they supported Mitt Romney, the highest of any of those in the race.

If you look at strong tea party supporters, South Carolina, Mitt Romney got 21 percent of these strong tea party support, but by the time we got to Nevada, it was 39 percent. He bested everybody in the field.

So my first question, as Mitt Romney's support among tea party conservatives, among the very conservative, seems to be growing, and certainly is besting others in the race, could you -- and let me start with you Congressman Armey, could you see your way clear to support a Mitt Romney nomination?

ARMEY: Well, first I've got to point out, South Carolina was an aberration because Newt Gingrich had -- was likely to be in final analysis his best moment in South Carolina. Now the fact of the matter is we know we're not going to get a...

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, do you think that...

ARMEY: ... reliable...

CROWLEY: I'm sorry. Let me just interrupt you right there.

ARMEY: I'm sorry.

CROWLEY: Do you think that Newt Gingrich is done in terms of the nomination, getting it?

ARMEY: I don't think Newt will be able to replicate that magic moment he had in South Carolina, because he had a confluence of circumstances that came. And he had just one masterful moment where he transformed himself from perpetrator to victim, attacked the media, which, Candy, as you know, is always popular with our base, and just sort of took that momentary surge. But I think he has played that string out. Now in the meantime, Mitt continues to work along. The governor continues to work along at a steady pace, and we are left with a dilemma that we are not going to get a reliable, small government conservative out of this nominating process.

That's why we've focused our attention on the House and Senate. Our notion is, we will get the legislative initiative coming out of a conservative-dominated House and Senate, we will build a legislative wall.

We'll either be walling a Republican president in or walling a Democrat president out. But we will -- our aim is to make the legislative initiative come from the House and the Senate, not wait upon the White House.

CROWLEY: Tony, I'm going to get to you, I promise, in a second.

But just quickly, Congressman Armey, could you support Mitt Romney? Could you work for Mitt Romney...

ARMEY: Oh yes.

CROWLEY: ... in whatever way you could be helpful?

ARMEY: If he gets the nomination, remember this, whoever is in the White House always is going to be drawn to his base. We would rather have a Republican president that's not fully the guy we adore wanting our affections than a Democrat president who despises us and covets the affections of our mortal enemies on public policy.

So clearly it's in the best interests to our policy objectives to support whatever Republican president might want to take the office and then seek our respect and admiration.

CROWLEY: And, Tony, you were sort of the leader in the group of conservative evangelicals and conservative Christians who met in Texas and came out and said, Rick Santorum is our guy.

It looks grim for Rick Santorum. He's still in the race, all things can happen, as we know, all things are possible, but if he does not win, will you wholeheartedly support a Mitt Romney nomination?

PERKINS: Well, Candy, first, that meeting in Houston I was a spokesman for the group, I have not endorsed -- our organization does not endorse presidential candidates.

PERKINS: But having said that, a...

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, didn't you come out and say Rick Santorum -- that group say we like Rick Santorum?

PERKINS: The group did, and I was the spokesman for that group. I have not personally endorsed, but 75 percent of those said that they preferred Rick Santorum as their candidate, because of his principled stands. And a Rasmussen poll yesterday actually showed him as the one candidate in their daily tracking that could beat Obama. And I think that's the concern is that once we get into the primary, who can, who is going to have that baggage? We're not looking for a candidate that can walk on water, we're looking for a candidate who doesn't sink under the weight of their own baggage, both past and present political positions, and the concern is that there's not going to be that enthusiasm among the base to topple President Obama in the presidential race.

CROWLEY: You think of the base, what I would consider folks that think similarly to you, Christian conservative base of the party might sit home if it were Mitt Romney?

PERKINS: Well, no, not necessarily. I mean there's a very strong overlap between the Tea Party evangelical voters and just what Dick was talking about, the focus is on the House and the Senate and expanding the conservative majorities in congress so that whether you have a Republican or a Democrat the policy initiatives are either going to be killed coming from the White House or the White House is boxed in to do the right thing, so that's an agreement we have there.

I think, look, the policies of this administration -- and you talked about it earlier with the two governors, Governor McDonnell pointed to this -- I disagree with him, he's a good friend, but I disagree that Romney has captured the evangelical support, the conservative support. We see -- they're warming to him, but he still has a long way to go.

But when it comes down to it, the social conservative voters, they know what this president has done. What he did this week with forcing this issue of contraception, a violation of the tenets of the faith of Catholics in particular, but evangelicals as well, is sending a strong message. And this wasn't done in an isolated incident. We've had a series of these types of decisions by this administration, but you have to have strong enthusiasm. And that's what's going to be required. I think Mitt is warming to it. He's made statements about religious freedom. I think he can get there, but we're still a ways away from that point.

I think it may be August before this is a done deal. We may go all the way to the convention before we have solid support behind a nominee.

CROWLEY: Evangelical support behind a nominee, sorry, is that what you're talking about or in general?

PERKINS: Yeah, I think he's got the party established.

CROWLEY: OK, let me -- I want to play...

PERKINS: Again, I think there's strong overlap between Tea Party and evangelical voters.

CROWLEY: Right, right.

I want to play both of you something that Newt Gingrich said last night in the news conference he held after the results were in, in Nevada.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: If you can't tell the truth as a candidate for president, how can the country possibly expect to you lead as president? And I frankly was stunned, I make no bones about this, in the second Florida debate, I had nothing to say because I had never before seen a person who I thought of as a serious candidate for president be that fundamentally dishonest and it was blatant and it was deliberate and he knew he was doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: He being Mitt Romney.

Congressman Armey, I know the party line is oh, this kind of primary, no matter how long it goes, it just strengthens us but I cannot believe that you believe that this sort of rhetoric aimed at Mitt Romney is at all helpful for you all in the fall.

ARMEY: I don't think it's helpful even to Newt. I feel bad for him. I think he's digressed into a state of taking a second rate campaign and turning it into a first rate vendetta. And I think he's putting himself out of the game because he can't get over his obsession about his own hurt feelings over the campaign in Iowa. He needs to get beyond that and get to the nation's people's business, if he expects to have any chance whatsoever.

I thought that last night was really sad for him, and quite frankly, again, so much of Newt's whole life is overstates. He overstates the case is in a hyperbolic fashion, it just looks vindictive.

CROWLEY: We should also say that you and Newt Gingrich have a bit of a history. You're not a total fan of his.

But let me move the question to Tony. Is that sort of rhetoric helpful to you all in the fall? And obviously Congressman Armey thinks it's not, and not helping Gingrich.

PERKINS: Well, look, there's a lot to talk about all the Republicans are beating each other up in the primary it's going to hurt us in the general. Look the Giants and the Patriots are playing today, two very good teams. Six months they probably would not have been prepared to play in this game.

They've had injuries along the way, they've had setbacks, but they've built on their weaknesses and they've built stronger, built on their strengths. I think that's what's happening here.

I think these things are being exposed on the candidates are going to be exposed in the general election, so they might as well come out now. They might as well figure out how to deal with them and build on them.

It is not very helpful when it digresses into personal attacks, which we have seen some of, but that's the nature of politics. It's been that way. It will continue to be that way. CROWLEY: OK. And Congressman Armey I am totally out of time, but I want to make sure I gave you a chance, was I correct in the way I described your relationship with Newt Gingrich because I sort of said it and left you. And I wanted to make sure, you're not close friends, let's put it that way.

ARMEY: Well we worked well together during the time we worked together. But you know I'm sure we both had disappointments in one another. But I think right now the question is, is Newt going to have an effective campaign that presents the best of his ideas for America, or is he just going to have a constant patter of attacking Romney.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Dick Armey we appreciate it, Tony Perkins thank you for both for joining us this morning.

Coming up, we make sense of some of the week's big economic numbers. And later, in honor of Super Bowl Sunday we found a common thread between the gridiron and the campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The unemployment rate last month was the lowest it's been since February 2009, and Friday the Dow Jones Industrials hit their highest levels since May 2008.

As the economy goes, so goes the president's re-election chances. So high fives all around? Not so much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: These numbers will go up and down in the coming months, and there are still far too many Americans who need a job or need a job that pays better than the one they have now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The president did pronounce the economy stronger, but despite the best monthly news in years on Wall Street and Main Street, nobody seems to trust its staying power, in part because of things like this: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projected in a report released this week that the unemployment rate will go back up to 8.9 percent in the final months of this year, and hit 9.2 percent by the end of next year. And the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke reminded congress Thursday the U.S. economy does not operate in a vacuum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Risk remain that developments in Europe or elsewhere may unfold favorably and could worsen economic prospects here at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Up next, politics and the economy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Here to make sense of some big economic figures: Alice Rivlin, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was chief economist for President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers; and our Ron Brownstein, a senior political analyst with us here at CNN.

I'm completely confused by this week, because Friday it's like the best unemployment figures we've seen in three years, and the Dow Industrials go crazy, and the CBO earlier in the week said, you know, the debt outlook is horrible, the deficit is horrible, and by the way unemployment is going back up.

So are we happy or are we worried?

ALICE RIVLIN, FORMER OMB DIRECTOR UNDER BILL CLINTON: I think it was basically a good news week. The unemployment figures and the new jobs in the Friday report were good news. They aren't definitive. That was one month, but it was a good, strong month, an indication that the economy is taking hold.

If it lasts, we'll have the best thing that anybody is able to predict is a good, slow recovery with gradual reduction in the unemployment rate from what is admittedly a very high level.

CROWLEY: But the CBO said 9.3 or something next year, which is craziness.

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, FORMER CHIEF ECONOMIST, GEORGE W. BUSH COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Right. Remember, the CBO is -- its job is to find the dark cloud for every silver lining, and so it did that. But the reason it did that, all kidding aside, is that the CBO has to assume that the Bush tax cuts sunset.

That means it has to assume an enormous tax increase next year, and that means it has to assume that we have bad economic growth. And that gets you high unemployment.

So strip that out, I think we got one month's good news in the labor market, that's great, but the truth is the debt is bad and the recovery is not very strong, and we have a long way to go.

CROWLEY: And I was just going to say, I suspect politically the reason we heard the president go, well, these numbers are going to go up and these numbers are going to go down, is kind of to inoculate himself from next month or the month after.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Because there has been more than one good month. I mean, there has been several months of good unemployment news and overall job growth, private sector job growth in 2011 was 2.1 million, which was the best since I think '05.

So there's a general trajectory that is more positive. But trajectory is the key, I think, politically. You know, and I think almost all political strategists agree that kind of direction matters more than level. If it continues to improve, that's obviously good news for the president.

If the CBO is right and we see a turnaround toward the end of the year, with it going back up, that would be more problematic. Although I would point out that most political scientists believe we are in the key period now that the second quarter of the election year is when voters really take that snapshot and it is positive for the president that he is seeing improvement at this moment.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I would never disagree with a political expert. But a couple of things, unemployment will go up before it comes down in a permanent way. There are a lot of discouraged workers out there, 3 million, 4 million...

CROWLEY: They will come back in.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: ... when they come back, it will go up...

CROWLEY: .. and they will drive up the unemployment numbers.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: ... and that will be confusing to people. Good news will be bad news. And on the ground it's not going to feel that great. Right now the numbers look better, that's fine, but until we see steady job growth that's even this rapid or more, and employment increases that are matched by wage increases, you're not going to see the incomes for people to feel good.

So if we start -- if there is happy talk in Washington when it's not that great on the ground, that's a bad story.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, there's a huge disconnect then.

RIVLIN: Nobody is doing happy talk, not even the president. But we have to ...

CROWLEY: Said the economy was stronger.

RIVLIN: We have to recognize that the economy is stronger, that's what he said, and it has shown that it's stronger for the last several months. And the CBO was actually not making a new forecast. It was telling us what we already know.

If you raise taxes drastically at the end of the year, letting the Bush tax cuts all expire, and if you cut spending drastically next year with the sequester, then it's not good news for the economy. But nobody wants that to happen.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Right, that's the...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Well, that is not really on the table. The debate will be about at the end of the year whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent. They have to assume that they sunset for the entire population, which really neither side is talking about, is a very unlikely outcome, although conceivable in stalemate. CROWLEY: Well, in fact, the CBO said, listen, it will reduce economic stability and it will increase unemployment if you let those tax cuts expire.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: It's an extraordinarily bad idea. And there's -- the thinking...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLTZ-EAKIN: But it's across the board, for rich -- it's supposed to be the biggest political risk we face, which is post- election, regardless of who wins, we have a lame duck, they're never very organized, they look like a rugby scrum at best, suddenly we've got the sequester and the Bush tax cuts on the table, that's a big risky moment for the economy.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you all to hold fire, because we're going to come back. But up next, more with our economic roundtable and later the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee joins us for a frank discussion of Israel, Iran, Syria, and more. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with Alice Rivlin, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, and our Ron Brownstein.

I want to ask you all, when you look at this year, where is the point or what could you see that would make you think the recovery is for real?

CROWLEY: Jump ball.

RIVLIN: I would like to see strong employment growth continue, GDP growth continue, but most of all I would like to see the Republicans and the Democrats in the Congress get together with the president and solve the long run debt problem.

Gridlock is the greatest threat, much greater than anything else that could happen to our economy.

CROWLEY: Because it undermines consumer confidence basically.

RIVLIN: Well, more than that. If we do nothing, as we said in the last segment, the default position is that we have a big tax increase and a big, mindless spending cut and that would be bad for the economy. We have to avoid that.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I look at the housing market. And if there's one thing that says success it says builders build houses. And we get up to something 900,000 housing starts. They don't do that unless they have customers. We don't get that customer base unless incomes are growing and employment is growing and there's a lot of consumer confidence.

CROWLEY: Isn't there a lot of...

HOLTZ-EAKIN: If that turns around, everything...

CROWLEY: But there are a lot of empty houses out there.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: To me, kind of building on that, I think both economically and politically for me it's the same measure: consumer confidence and in particular the share of Americans who believe the economy is better a year from now than it is today. Politically we know that kind of projections about the future are probably more important to how people vote than their assessments of the immediate present. And also economically the willingness to invest is tied to a belief that there are better times ahead.

One other subsidiary point, part of Obama's problem for 2012 is the groups at the core of his coalition who he needs to turn out the most in 2012 have been among the hardest hit, African-Americans, Hispanic and young people. We are beginning to see that change. In this new employment figure, the one that came out last Friday for example, there are now 1.6 million Hispanics working than a year ago, the unemployment rate is down from 12 percent to 10.5, still very high, still very elevated, but beginning to see some improvement in those sectors that he really needs to see at the ballot box in 2012.

CROWLEY: Just to sort of p.s. on that, I talked to somebody very high up in the administration who said we need to convince the guy who doesn't have a job that he's going to get one soon. That's their plan.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: That's hard if -- you know he's the sitting president, so it's ultimately a referendum, which is ultimately a backward looking event. And so they have got to somehow get these people to look forward. That's tough.

CROWLEY: I have got to ask you to flip the coin here and tell me what would happen that you would think, oy.

RIVLIN: There are lots of risks to this economy, Europe could blow up, although it looks better at the moment. We could have some other catastrophe like the Japanese tsunami, but I think the biggest threat to this economy is not economic, it's political, it's gridlock, it is the government not working. And at the moment the government is not working.

The two parties are unable to agree on anything, and that's not necessarily going to change after the election. We have to have a change of heart that says we have to come together to solve some of these problems.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I agree with Alice on the list of risks, Europe, gasoline, Iran, political risks but you'll know we're in trouble when you start seeing new claims for unemployment insurance rise instead of going down. We've seen steady improvement in that. If people start coming out of their jobs again we're in trouble.

BROWNSTEIN: Europe and Iran, the big threat. One thing the White House worries about, the job growth has been faster than we had predicted by the level of GDP growth and they worry that that will begin to equalize and slow it down in 2012.

CROWLEY: Ron Brownstein, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Alice Rivlin, thank you all so much.

Up next, President Obama says all options are on the table when it comes to Iran. A look at the future of unsteady relations with Iran with House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for coming in.

ROGERS: Thank you for having me.

CROWLEY: We have this interesting thing happen this week where a columnist let it be known that Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, believes that Israel is going to bomb Iran because of its continuing development of we believe of a nuclear weapon within the next three months or so. Wasn't a direct quote. Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, won't actually comment on it directly, but you know how this town works. Things are leaked for a reason. What reason was this leaked for?

ROGERS: Well, I'm not so sure it was leaked for a reason. There is an interesting series of events happening. Israel has been a little bit distrustful of the United States and I think that's been caused a little bit of friction is we normally work so well together about maybe this is not the right time for you to launch an attack, but they have a red line. Israel has a red line. And they have been signaling to the United States for some time that they will not allow Iran to cross that red line, and that's in that pursuit of nuclear weapons. And I think what you see now is more of a reflection of a little bit of frustration on both sides of this equation, Israel's holding back a little bit, the United States, they're not sure exactly what they're going to do. We've got to fix that and we need to fix it now.

CROWLEY: So they're sort of feeling each other out publicly?

ROGERS: Well unfortunately, I think yes. But you have to remember all of the series of events that's happened has put a little bit of uncertainty of our relationship between Israel and the United States. And I'm not talking -- this is all blown up and we're not cooperating, that is not what I'm talking.

But when you're talking about something as serious as taking military action against Iran's nuclear weapon program that's a whole new ball game. And so I think they think we're getting boxed in a corner. We have Egypt is on our southern border. We used to not have to worry about it, and now we have to worry about it. We have Iran developing nuclear weapons. We have problems and they're not getting great signals from the United States right now.

We need to put that back together I think in a hurry.

CROWLEY: How close is Israel to that red line do you think?

ROGERS: I think it's close. And you have to remember that the Iranians moving their enrichment facility to Qom is on a purposes. They know that's a very difficult military target to strike.

So and all of that's happening all at the same time. And all the signals that Iran are getting unfortunately are just not the right signals. And I think that's why Israel is a little frustrated -- the pull out of Iraq, the announced time-line for increased pullout by a year in Afghanistan, the changing fundamentally of our doctrine militarily has I think rattled the cage a little bit.

ROGERS: So some of this is out of frustration. And, again, my argument is this is too important for us not to get this right. If Israel does a unilateral strike, this could be a real problem for the national security interests of the United States.

CROWLEY: Well, it lights the Middle East on fire, basically.

ROGERS: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: Let me play something that came from the campaign trail. And the question to Newt Gingrich was, if Israel came to you and you were president, and they said we're going to go bomb Iran, what would you do?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would say, if you believe the survival of your country is at stake, what is it we can do to help you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Right? Wrong?

ROGERS: Well, one thing that's important to understand, that we have a defense pact with Israel. So if they are attacked, the United States is obligated to help defend them.

CROWLEY: It, sort of, depends on what your definition of "attacked" is, isn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

ROGERS: Well, if -- if Iran, at any time, launches missiles or Hezbollah tries to come over the border in -- as a part of any military action that's coordinated, well, we're...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Well, right now, we're talking about something that's going on in Iran, not an overt attack on Israel, in which case is -- if Israel comes to this administration and says, we're going to do this, if, in fact, they would give us a heads-up, what is the appropriate U.S. response, don't do it; you need to think about this; or, OK, we're behind you?

ROGERS: Well, can I back up for one second?

CROWLEY: Sure.

ROGERS: So, clearly, they're feeling pressure. Israel is feeling pressure. They do have the right to defend themselves, clearly.

We had a center of influence, we the United States, over time, saying, is this the right time; there are other things we can do together to slow down, to delay, to get them to come -- them, Iran, come to the negotiating table on their nuclear weapon program.

Congress, over the last two years, passed two very significant pieces of legislation that instructed the president, you will go into tougher sanctions with Iran. They seem to be working. It is -- the financial pressure on Iran right now is devastating.

CROWLEY: How do we know that? In what way are they working? Have they stopped building nuclear...

ROGERS: No -- no, we haven't. It's working in the sense that it is affecting every sector of their economy.

So -- and, remember, in 2009 you had what they called the Green Revolution, where they were tired of their regime. Well, this puts pressure on those same people who are pro-democracy, pro -- anti their own Iranian regime, their leader. This puts pressure on all of that to turn this thing around.

Because now it's impacting average Iranians in their daily lives. Inflation is just rampant. The fact that they're having a hard time getting access to currency for transactions is starting to be a real problem.

And our argument is can we work with the Israelis on this and other programs to try to delay or stop this program by bringing Iran to the table?

That, to me, is a better outcome than inflaming the Middle East. But when you have lost that leverage, it makes Israel have to make their own decision on their own defense.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to the other hotspot right now, real quickly, and that is Syria.

The president, in August, said this, "We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step down."

Obviously, seven months later, President Assad is still in place. He is still, as far as we know, killing his people. The U.S. basically can't affect this in any way, can they, because even at the U.N. we were blocked by Russia and China?

ROGERS: Yeah, I think the Arab League is probably our best option in this particular case. They understand what's happening in Syria. They understand it's not good for the greater Middle East. They've started to increase their pressure. I think that has to be our option, and I think it's the best option for the United States right now. The U.N. resolution is not going to get there with Russia and China standing in the way.

CROWLEY: It is not. Thank you so much, Congressman, for joining us. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: We appreciate it.

Up next, top stories, and then football and politics have more in common than you might think.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories.

Seven people were killed, at least nine wounded in a suicide car bombing in the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar. The country's interior ministry did not provide details about the possible target, though witnesses said the explosion occurred near a police building.

The Libyan interior minister tells CNN that Saif Gadhafi, a son of Libya's deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi, could go on trial within a few weeks.

And heavy snow has forced London's Heathrow Airport to cancel about half its flights today. No word on how many passengers were affected. London is the latest European capital to be hit by winter storms across the continent.

It is Super Bowl Sunday, and from that we drew our inspiration for this week's edition of "The Campaign Trail."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON, FILM ACTOR: Are you ready to go out there and take what's yours?

(UNKNOWN): Yes!

JOHNSON: What you've worked hard for?

(UNKNOWN): Yes!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in "The Gridiron Gang," one of the inspirational locker room scenes that Hollywood routinely pumps out. And if you've covered enough presidential campaigns, you begin to know that candidates sound a lot like football coaches at halftime.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our goal is to win.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm convinced I can beat Barack Obama.

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will win the nomination, and we will then win the election.

(UNKNOWN): It's not about winning. It's about you and your relationship to yourself and your family and your friends.

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do talk about family a lot because family is the key.

PAUL: We've been married 55 years. We have five children and 18 grandchildren.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I see so many children in this audience. How wonderful is that?

(UNKNOWN): When you take that field today, you've got to lay that heart on the line, man.

GINGRICH: I need your help across the board.

ROMNEY: This really is a battle about the soul of America.

(UNKNOWN): Let's get 'em , Tiger.

ROMNEY: Get out there and caucus.

(UNKNOWN): Either we heal now as a team or we will die.

GINGRICH: President Reagan...

(UNKNOWN): Ronald Reagan.

ROMNEY: Ronald Reagan used to say...

FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Ask them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: In case you didn't recognize in that last clip, it was from "Knut Rockne: All American," the young actor, Ronald Reagan, proof of just one degree of separation between politics and football.

You enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday. You can find today's interviews, as well as analysis, web exclusives and much more at our website, CNN.com/sotu. And be sure to join me Tuesday night for CNN's coverage of the Republican nomination contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri.